Ode To A Nightingale - Poem

Poem

The poem begins suddenly, marked by use of heavy sounding syllables ("My heart aches" line 1), as it introduces the song of a hidden bird. Immediately, the narrator is overcome with such a feeling that he believes he has either been poisoned or is influenced by a drug. It is soon revealed that the source of this feeling is a nightingale's song. The narrator empathises with it and finds it has paralyzed his mind:

’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease. (lines 5–10)

The song encourages the narrator to give up his own sense of self and embrace the feelings that are evoked by the nightingale. No longer a poison, the narrator wants to experience more of the feeling and escape from reality:

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
* * * * *
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: (lines 11–13, 19–20)

The narrator uses metaphorical wings to join the nightingale. It is at this moment that the poem moves into a deep, imaginative state, and the narrator cries out:

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! (lines 31–35)

The state that the narrator wants is seemingly a state of death, but it is one that is full of life. The paradox expands to encompass the night, a tender presence that allows some light to shine through:

tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. (lines 35–40)

In the new state, the narrator's senses change. He loses his sense of sight, but his ability to smell, taste, and hear allow him to experience the new world, the new paradise that he has entered:

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;(lines 41–45)

The narrator describes a world of potential, and empathizes with the creatures of that world. He is soon called to the sounds of insects just as he heard the nightingale before. This is then replaced by a new sound:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath; (lines 51–54)

The narrator has blinded himself to better connect to the nightingale. This theme appears before, in the blind John Milton's epic Paradise Lost, where Book III describes the nightingale's song coming out of darkness. The world is no longer present in the poem, as the imagination has taken over. What separates life and death, self and nothingness, are removed:

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod. (lines 55–60)

Death serves as a muse within the poem. It is, to the narrator, soft and comes upon the narrator as he composes the poem. He seeks death, wants to die, and wants to be with the nightingale because he experienced the height of life and nothing else would be worth experiencing. To live after that point would be a living death to the narrator. He desires to be like the nightingale, able to constantly give himself up in song and transcend life and death. However, he soon realizes that he will always be different from the bird:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown: (lines 61–64)

The world of imagination is not a place that a man could ever live in. This knowledge causes the narrator to become disheartened as the imaginary world is destroyed. The narrator cannot have the imaginary land. He is not just separate from the bird, but from poetry and imagination in general. The narrator mourns in the final lines of the poem as he realizes that he has been abandoned by his art:

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep? (lines 71–80)

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